Design won’t surf if Web is just a Flash in the pan

A striking feature of Internet businesses – and e-commerce in particular – is the interest they’ve attracted from the City. The money men and women who’ve been wary of the risk involved in the creative industries since economic recession in the early 1990s are less scared of digital media. With pundits predicting that access to the Web for most UK households through their TV sets will soon be possible, they see that prospects for Internet shopping and information systems can only get brighter.

Why else would Tesco, the canny market leader in the supermarket sector, be keen to build its on-line sales network? Delivery is the only real challenge it faces, and it’s remarkable how easily such issues can be resolved if market demands the service. No business can afford to ignore the cultural changes evolving as a result of the Internet and the bright ones are learning fast how best to cash in on the opportunities it engenders.

It’s not surprising, therefore, to see venture capitalists setting up specialist enterprises – so-called “incubators” – to fund Internet concerns. Already, relatively new Internet businesses are worth millions of pounds and the digital media bubble is a long way from bursting.

Of course, financiers aren’t backing design per se when they take on these ventures. It’s the idea behind the business and the market niche it can create for itself. The runaway success of Amazon.com in selling books on-line, say, seems obvious now, but what a visionary concept it was not that many months ago that books could be sold unseen. But as more businesses take to the Net, whether they’re established companies or new, purely Web-based concerns, design could have a stronger role to play in helping them stand out against rivals, if only it can get its own act together.

Branding and ease of navigation are being addressed by most Web design groups, but only the best appreciate the value of injecting wit and personality into a website. Too many produce run-of-the-mill sites or use technology to cover up for lack of real content. It’s a direct parallel to print design – most graphic designers can do the job, but only a talented few turn it into something special without obscuring ideas with gimmickry.

It’s obvious from their own websites that many design groups have strayed into digital media without understanding its potential. If a site’s impact relies solely on Flash or similar programs – and it invariably crashes the visitor’s computer – it isn’t doing the job. If more Web designers could bring creativity to the content, rather than being obsessed with navigation, we might get somewhere.

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